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Exonerated Ohio Prisoner’s Claim for Improperly Released Medical Record to Proceed

An Ohio Court of Appeals held a trial court improperly granted summary judgment to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) in a lawsuit claiming invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The suit was brought by Clarence Elkins, Sr., who was convicted in 1999 on multiple felony charges and sentenced to life. He was subsequently exonerated and released from prison. He obtained a declaration of being wrongfully imprisoned and received $7.84 million in settlements from the State of Ohio and City of Barberton. [See: PLN, June 2012, p.34; July 2011, p.11]. His ex-wife and son also received settlements.

Prior to receiving their settlements, the ex-wife and son filed for bankruptcy. Once they received the settlements, the federal government made a claim for unpaid taxes on the settlement funds. As part of that claim, the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice issued a subpoena to ODRC requesting production of copies of documents related to medical treatment Elkins received while imprisoned. ODRC responded by providing the records.

In response to Elkins’ suit, ODRC moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, Elkins made four assignments of error. The appellate court made a de novo review, finding the grant of the motion could not be sustained.

The first issue concerned the unauthorized disclosure of privileged records in violation of R.C. 2317.OZ and 4732.19. The trial court concluded Elkins cited statues that create evidentiary privileges, not a claim for damages. It also found the medical records were produced in a federal bankruptcy proceeding governed by federal law.

The appellate court found that those statutory references were never cited by Elkins. It further found ODRC did not argue that basis, and its arguments on appeal were not asserted below, so the grant of the motion was improper because Elkins was not permitted to respond to them.

The Court of Appeals further held Elkins did not invoke the jurisdiction of the federal bankruptcy court, so there was no need for any party to that litigation to have access to Elkins medical records. As such, ODRC failed to meet its burden to “demonstrate it was privileged to release those records under a statutory mandate or common law or that the disclosure was necessary to protect a countervailing interest that outweighed appellant’s interest in confidentiality.”

As to the invasion of privacy claim, the grant of summary judgment was based on a lack of jurisdiction. That grant is inconsistent with the rationale, for it supposes jurisdiction to deny relief. Dismissal is the proper vehicle for lack of jurisdiction.

Finally, the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was disposed of based on a finding that ODRC was entitled to produce the records. The trial court’s order was reversed. See: Elkins v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 2014-Ohio-2786 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County June 26, 2014).

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Related legal case

Elkins v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction